Archive for the Tech Comm Category

A FYI to you all

Posted in Personal, Tech Comm, technical writing on June 11, 2010 by Mike

In a few days, this blog content will go away when it’s handed over to the new Marketing fellow at MadCap Software. If there is value to you in a current post, make sure you get that content now before it goes away.

Thanks and looking forward to seeing you all elsewhere!

Posted by: Sharon

Life is good

Posted in MadCap software, Tech Comm, technical writing, webinars on August 21, 2009 by Mike

It’s a lovely late August morning in So Cal. The sun is shining, the dogs are playing, Current Husband just woke up.

It’s all good in the world.

More webinars

I’ve added another webinar to the mix. This one is October 7th 2009. Ed Marshall is talking about breaking into the API market. This is a very requested topic and I expect lots of attendees. To sign up for this or other webinars, go to http://www.madcapsoftware.com/demos/webinars.aspx.

And remember, if the time or date don’t work for you, sign up anyway. We record these webinars and you’ll automatically get a link to the recording the next day. Then you can “do” the webinar when it does work for you.

Help me out a little

I’d like to know if having these webinars about every other week is the right frequency. Perhaps it’s too often? Perhaps you’d like 1x a month? 1x a quarter?

If you could post in the comments what you’d like to see in frequency (or a topic you’d like to learn more about), that would help me a lot. I can better plan to meet your needs.

Time for work for me! I have client deadlines.

Posted by: Sharon

Long over due update

Posted in Blaze, Flare, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writing, webinars on August 17, 2009 by Mike

It’s been 5 months since I posted and that makes me the worst blogger ever. Now that I’ve accepted fault, let’s move on. Don’t hold onto the past.

So where have I been?

You may have noticed the economy took a nose dive from October to at least March. In March, MadCap and I agreed that we should cut my hours. I still work part time for MadCap, doing demos, running the webinar series, and helping where I’m needed. But that’s a small part of my time now.

So that’s where I’ve been.

What does this mean to you?

I can help you even more now.

If you bought Flare or Blaze (or other products) and are looking at getting the products integrated into your workplace, I can help. I can provide

  • Training
  • Advise the best way to start importing/converting/using legacy content
  • Advise the best workflow for you
  • Creating branded stylesheets/master pages/etc
  • Set up your import rules
  • Do the conversions
  • Create relationship tables for your content
  • And a lot more

I can help with small and large projects, at your site or off-site.

For example, I’ve been helping a company convert a lot of legacy RoboHelp content into Flare. This lets their writers focus efforts on generating new content to meet their deadlines. With the staffing cuts from this recession, this makes financial sense for them.

Contact me to start talking about how I can help you get productive.

In other MadCap news

The webinar series is back on after a short summer break. We have coming up:

Sept 9th Cascading Stylesheets (Part 3) Images

Sept 29th Indexing Boot Camp

Oct 20th Task Analysis for Developing Policies & Procedures Content

Stay tuned for an API docs webinar about October 7th and part 4 of the CSS webinar series on October 14th or so.

In personal news

We lost our other old dog in April. Lady went to sleep and didn’t wake up. She was 15 years old, blind and deaf. After a good long life, Lady was gone.

The Aussie was lonely and he wasn’t getting happier, so in May, we went to the local rescue shelter and found a new friend. Olivia (because an Augustus needs an Olivia) the Leonberger is about 10 months old now and a delight. She is a very large dog with a lot of puppy left in her. 70lbs of excited puppy. She’s the red dog in the photos to the right.

She hadn’t been worked with much, so we’ve spent the last few months doing basic training. Olivia is smarter than Gus and has picked up the training faster than he did.

She also loves swimming. And when I say loves, I don’t mean likes it a lot. I mean adores the water. Any water.

Gus and Olivia play chase attack kill and collapse in a pile together. They are both very happy.

We’re so glad we went to a rescue shelter to find our next dog.

Posted by: Sharon

Not posted for a while

Posted in DITA, MadCap, MadCap software, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by Mike

Between losing Sara the Amazing Swimming Dog, WritersUA, and then getting really sick, I’ve just not posted for a bit.

So I thought I would quickly this morning.

Free Webinar Series

If you have not been paying attention, the free webinar series is going very very well. The one we just did had the most signups ever. I was amazed.

The next one is April 23 at 9am Pacific.

Controlling Costs by Controlling Language
This tool-independent webinar shows how simplified language options can reduce page count, decrease translation expense, and improve comprehension among non-English audiences. But is it appropriate for you? Find out.
Presenter: Brenda Huettner, P-N Designs, Inc

Brenda simply rocks. She knows a lot about our field and this webinar is a great way to learn about controlled language. It may not be right for you, but it would be good to know what it is, in case it comes up.

For more info about the webinar series, go to http://www.madcapsoftware.com/demos/webinars.aspx.

Dita, Dita, everywhere

In case you didn’t get to go to WritersUA, we’re in beta with Flare Dita. If you have Dita content and are willing to beat the crud out of the software, we want you to join the beta. Send me an email and I’ll pass it along to the guy.

Remember, no Open Toolkit, just Flare and Dita. Output to Webhelp, PDF, Frame, Word, Dita, and more.

More later

See you all at STC International in just a few weeks!

Releases everywhere

Posted in DITA, MadCap, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , on February 25, 2009 by Mike

By now you’ve heard MadCap Software released the new versions of Lingo, Mimic, and Capture. Good products, great updates. Our guys worked hard to do great products.

Big picture stuff

I’m not going to tell you all the new stuff here; you can click the links and go to our website and see what’s new. But here’s a fast overview of the stuff I think is cool:

  • Lingo: Imports Word, DITA, RTF, and more source files. So if you’re writing in these formats, you can use Lingo to translate your files.
  • Mimic: MovieSync is a huge deal in Mimic. Here’s how that works.

Let’s say you have a screen movie of a tutorial for creating reports in your product. You have call outs, mouse movements, all that stuff. And then they changed the application – perhaps a new version. With MovieSync, you start the application, open Mimic, and re-record the movie. Open both the old version and the new version in MovieSync. Now you can specify to move some callouts, all the callouts, what frames get what, and so on.

Think of the time you can save by not having to manually re-do each thing you did on each screen. Wow.

  • Capture: Conditions from the Flare or Blaze project are now available in your Capture files. Variable have been available for a while, but now you can conditionalize stuff in your Capture files with the same conditions from your Flare or Blaze projects.

We did a lot more in these products, this list is just the 1 thing I think is a big deal for each product.

No, seriously, they’re tools-neutral

It took 5 webinars but the word is getting out: the MadCap Webinar Series is in fact tools-neutral. Unless we state the webinar is specifically about our products, the webinar may not even mention our products.

So, if you thought you’d like some Technical Communication related training but thought we were doing some clever bait and switch, we’re not. Go sign up at http://www.madcapsoftware.com/demos/webinars.aspx for the ones coming up or to see the ones you’ve missed.

The next one is Neil Perlin talking about Using your HAT as a Content Management System, March 12 at 9am Pacific.

We’re getting 150 to 300 people signed up for these, so go see what you’ve missed!

Personally

Yesterday was my grand daughter’s 4th birthday. She had a tummy thing and spent the day throwing up, so no cupcakes for her. She managed to open the knit sweater and the crochet hat her Nana made and sent.

To see a picture of her looking a little green around the gills but wearing the stuff Nana made, go to here.

Happy Birthday, Tally! May you have a century more, my baby.

I’m cold and tired of rain

Posted in Flare, MadCap, MadCap Blaze, Madcap flare, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2009 by Mike

Remember that wonderful warm weather I talked about a few weeks ago? I barely do. It’s been cold and wet for the last 10 days.

OK, So Cal cold but my bones are still cold and I’m tired of wet. I know we need the rain, but I’m still tired of it.

And we have about another week of cold and wet to go, at least.

Free webinars!

The free tech Comm webinars are going well. We did the one about making the Business Case for Moving to Topic-based Authoring today. It went very well and the response has been very good.

We’re consistently getting 150 to 250 people signed up per webinar and I’m so happy. That tells me there is a need for these and people are really interested. I like that. It’s my project and I’m just really delighted with how it’s going.

One person wrote to me today:

…I was delighted at all the extra tips you gave to help persuade Management if one were presenting a use case. I’m just delighted at the spreadsheet and information that you shared with us all…

All good stuff. To find out more about these webinars, sign up, or view the recorded ones, click here.

In the future

We’re going to run a series of 3-5 webinars on CSS. The first few will be product independent, in that they will be about CSS, regardless of the tools you re using. The last one will be an Advanced CSS in Flare or Blaze but you should be able to do this stuff in any CSS-based tool.

We’re thinking of these as a 3-5 hour crash course in CSS. Even if you don’t use our products, I think even the last one or two will be valuable to you because you should be able to hack your current tool in the ways we show you in Flare.

Watch our site for more details. I’m writing the description for the first one in the next day or so.

Happy Valentines Day!

I hope you are doing something fun on Saturday. Current Husband and I are splurging and going to our favorite romantic resturant for dinner.

It’s where our friends took us for dinner after our wedding. We save this place for special evenings, where we hold hands and remember why we like each other so much. I’m really looking forward to it, even if it’s cold and wet, like it’s supposed to be.

Good stuff all the way

Posted in Feedback, MadCap software, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , on February 4, 2009 by Mike

You probably heard that we released a new version of Feedback this week. Feedback is a product that I think every one should be using. You can stop guessing about what’s working and finally start to know.

Feedback

One of the toughest things in Tech Comm is knowing what information your users are using, how they’re finding it, and what they’re looking for. This really matters because if they want information you created but they aren’t finding it, then it doesn’t exist for them.

With schedules and budgets the way they are, you are also being pushed to the wall to deliver as much as possible in shorter time frames. So, if you’re like me, you make decisions about what you think the users need and what they don’t need. And you may guess wrong.

But what if you could look over your users shoulders? What if you could see what information they are using? How are they finding it? What are they looking for that they aren’t finding? That would make your efforts more focused and would better meet your users needs.

That’s what Feedback does.

What the heck are these people doing?

You can run reports about where the users are spending time in the online docs, how they got there and what they are searching for. That lets you:

  • Add the information that they’re looking for that isn’t there
  • Add the keywords they’re using to the synonym list to help them find existing information
  • Decide not to update existing information because no one ever looks for it nor reads it

Feedback lets you see what your users are doing and help them better. Ultimately, that’s what Tech Comm professionals do – we’re a helpful people.

Feedback also lets your users rank topics with a 5 star system and you get the information as well, so you can know which topic are really helping and which aren’t.

But you can also get comments back, directly from the topic. These comments can be posted for everyone, moderated by your team before they become visible, or just sent to your team for review.

“No one reads the docs” is just wrong

And, if you’re like me and you spent your career listening to “No one reads the documentation”, wouldn’t it be nice to point to the data from the reports, showing that in fact, people are reading the docs? That would be cool!

We’re running a great deal on Feedback this month. If you want to just try it out to see what you can learn about your docs, we also do a 3 month thing that we host for your docs. No long term obligation, secure environment, all that.

Contact our sales team and ask about the special and the 3-month deal. In 3 months, you can discover a lot about your docs – enough to repay the cost of Feedback, I think.

New webinars

The webinars (my favorite topic lately!) are going very well. We’re getting 200/250 people signed up for each one. We’ve added 2 more topics. They are:

Controlling costs by controlling language

This tool-independent webinar shows how simplified language options can reduce page count, decrease translation expense, and improve comprehension among non-English audiences. But is it appropriate for you? Find out.

Presenter: Brenda Huettner, P-N Designs, Inc

Apr 23, 2009 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Pacific Time)

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/877644241

Users: Who are these people and what do they want?

This tool-independent webinar discusses creating the wrong content for the wrong user is as bad as creating nothing at all. Learn to identify your users and decide how to support them. Reduce costs and schedules by providing the right information.

Presenter: Sharon Burton, MadCap Software

May 14, 2009 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM (Pacific Time)

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/674715509

We’ve not added them to the MadCap website yet but they should appear in the next few days. If you’re interested, sign up.

We’re also recording the webinars so they are available afterwards if the time and date don’t work for you.

OK – I need to get back to work!

Catching up

Posted in MadCap, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2009 by Mike

It’s 6:45a on a Sunday morning for me. Current Husband is sleeping, the animals are all asleep, and I’m awake. I’ve been up for an hour and a half, because the old dogs wake me up at 5am to go out. And once I’m awake, I’m up.

In a way, I don’t mind being up so early. I’m home and it’s quiet. I have so little time at home to myself, it’s rather nice.

Other stuff I do

Saturday morning, I taught my first Crochet class at my favorite local yarn store. What does this have to do with Tech Comm you might be asking? Oh, lots.

Friday night, I realized that if I were teaching crochet to people, they needed a thing. So I had to come up with a thing that could be made easily with simple stitches. I could teach the stitches in class and then send them home with the pattern. So I wrote a very simple hat pattern and quickly made a sample to show in class.

In class, I had them start with the simplest stitches and then do those over and over until they were confident. Then we did the next one. And so on, until they had practiced all the stitches they needed to have to make the hat. After 2 hours, I sent them on their way with the pattern.

Coat of many Tech Comm colors

Teaching this crochet class was Tech Comm in action. I identified the:  

  • Audience: Knitters
  • User goal: Learn the basics of crochet
  • Learning attention span: About 2 hours
  • Skills needed for the goal (that fit with the above): 4 stitches
  • Order to teach the stitches: from simplest to more complex, building and reinforcing skills from one stitch to the next
  • Opportunity for reinforcing with self learning: The simple hat pattern

My Tech Comm background was very useful in putting this class together! I had a good time teaching it and several people are now able to crochet. I’ll do another class on Tunisian crochet in March sometime.

It’s fun to get slightly outside my usual life and teach new skills to people. I think that when we stop learning, we spiritually die. It’s why I love our field so much – I learn new stuff every day.

Work, work, work

Work this week was long and busy. We have a new promotion you may want to look at for the month of February. It’s a screaming deal and should help you get noticed if you’re looking for work or think you might be looking for work soon.

We did the second of the webinars this week as well. These are so successful, I’m working with several people and scheduling June and July now. Keep watching our website for more webinars on various Tech Comm topics.

Between the new promotion for Feb and the webinars, your skills should be so up to date, you can’t help but be successful!

The rest of my day

I have a fairly busy day ahead of me. I need to do laundry, meet a former student for lunch, work on the sweater I’m making for my grand daughter, watch Super Bowl and spend time with Current Husband.

Be very good if I could get the oil changed in my car and get it washed, too. That would be a productive day!

Off I go!

So Cal is lovely in the winter

Posted in DITA, MadCap, MadCap software, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars with tags , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2009 by Mike

With much of the nation in frigid temps, I have to tell you it’s about 75 F today, the sun is shining, and the sky is blue.

Wow.

You really have to love So Cal on days like today.

Webinars, get your free webinars!

Today, I did the first webinar in the series we’re doing. If you didn’t get to sign up for the Topic-based authoring webinar, we recorded it. You can click here and see the recorded webinar.

I’m pretty pleased with how it went. I’ve listened to most of it and, other than verbally stumbling more than I like, it’s pretty good.

I think we’ll be recording all the webinars, so if you want to sign up but have a conflicting meeting, sign up anyway. The day after the webinar, you will be sent an email, saying we’re completely bummed out that you couldn’t make it but here’s a link to see the recording.

We’re also adding more as time goes on, so make sure you regularly check our site at http://www.madcapsoftware.com/demos/webinars.aspx to see what we’re adding to the line up.

Yes, but are the webinars any good?

Good question. Here’s some feedback we got today:

“Thanks for today’s well-structured, well-executed, and informative intro to topic-based authoring. And thanks for the continuing series of webinars; I’ve registered for many of them.”

and

“I particularly appreciate your vision of providing non-tool-specific information.  I’m not currently using MadCap software (but I think I wish I was), but I am at the end of a dev. cycle and your presentation has really given me a good basis for setting my agenda for the coming year.”

My personal favorite:

“I just wanted to tell you that that was the most enjoyable webinar I’ve ever attended. You’re absolutely hilarious and I learned a lot, so thanks!”

So, in sum, I was funny and I presented information people could use. Perfect!

Want to be a star?

Want to have people tell you things like this? Of course you do! It feels really good.

I’m looking for more topics and people who can give the topics.  I’m not looking for PhD topics – you don’t have to change the world or break new ground. You don’t have to talk about MadCap tools.

I’m looking for people who have something useful they’ve learned and are willing to share it.

If that’s you, contact me and let’s talk.

Dancing in the streets

Posted in Analyzer, MadCap, MadCap software, Personal, Tech Comm, technical writer, technical writing, webinars on January 10, 2009 by Mike

I spent this week locked up in a room, talking to myself and recording demos. I started the week not sure what I was doing and finished the week quite pleased that the short demos matched the pictures in my head of what I wanted them to be.

I’m getting fairly expert at editing audio, which is completely new to me. Overall, I’m really pleased. It’s a fun thing to do.

We now have short videos showing X-Edit Contribute, X-Edit Review, and Analyzer on our website. A short recording about topic-based authoring will appear early next week. More will be added as the month goes on, so check the website often.

We also added a new area called Demos. Now you can easily go to the demos and see what you want without hunting about to find them. To find out more, go to http://www.madcapsoftware.com/demos/product.aspx. We also put the free webinars in the same area, to make it all easier to find.

New quarter, new ducklings, new topics

Additionally, this week started a new quarter. We were asked for this quarter and this quarter only to change the Engineering 180 course to better meet the specific needs of graduate students who are getting Masters and PhDs in Engineering.

Normally, we’re dealing with undergraduate engineering students who are going into the workforce when they graduate. We teach them about developing presentations, specifications, test plans and test cases, and so on.

Not this quarter.

This quarter we’re dealing with people who need to write technical articles on complex topics. So we’re changing the class to focus more on how to explain very technical information to other experts in article formats.

It’s going to be interesting. We have a general direction we want to take the class but we’re also making this up as we go.

After this quarter, a new class is being created called Engineering 181, especially for these graduate needs. We’ll teach it every Winter quarter. It’s quite an honor to be teaching at the graduate level.

Bonni is a little nervous because she has no advanced degrees. She’s sure my ABD (All But (PhD) Dissertation, a real academic term) status in Economic Anthropology gives me a better insight or something.

I point out that communication is communication, and my overeducated status has little to do with anything, except I know buckets of stuff no one cares much about. And I have student loans she doesn’t. That’s it.

Personal notes

Jan 10 (today) is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 75. She died of breast cancer in 1999, about a week after her birthday. (Yes, I get checked every year in June. Feel free to nag.)

My mother should have been a history scholar, lost in archives, looking for truth and nuance in Middle Age documents. Of Swedish farming stock, she came from a dirt poor family, left school at 17 to go to San Diego, worked in various banking jobs, sang professionally, and finally met my broadcaster father.

She did what women were supposed to do in the 1950s. I think, for her, these were the wrong things to do.

I grew up listening to my mother sing. And she could sing just like Patsy Cline, just an astonishing voice. Even today, I can’t listen to Patsy without hearing my mother as a second sound track in my head. Sometimes, when I miss her, I play Patsy Cline just to hear the second sound track.

Losing your mother is strange, even when you’re an adult. I’ve spent a decade thinking about it, trying to decide how to describe it, hoping to write about it one day.

After all that thought, I can’t tell you why losing your mother is so hard, I can only tell you it is. It’s different than losing your father, your boyfriend, your best friend, your brother, your aunts and uncles. All of which I’ve lost.

Your mother. It’s different.

My mother was a self-contained person, never given to emotional displays. You had to know her to know what was going on; watching her hands and body language told you what was internal. So, while your mother is your first cheerleader, mine wasn’t given to demonstrations, there were no pom poms nor acrobatics.

Her sisters told me when she was proud of me and it always surprised me that she was. I had no idea. It certainly wasn’t something you would ever ask her about.

The only time I ever saw her emotional was when my father was terminally ill. He was at home and she called, telling me she thought he wasn’t breathing and what should she do? Call 911 and sit tight, I said. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.

More upsetting than my father potentially not breathing was my mother at a total loss. I’d never seen that before, couldn’t imagine she wouldn’t know something so basic as calling 911. But of course, she wasn’t asking about my father at all.

I get my impatience with self-indulgent emotions from her. Even, and perhaps especially, my own. Some things are just what they are and moaning and whining about them helps not at all, it changes nothing and wastes energy. And since, at some level, that may be what I’m doing now, I’ll stop.

But you should call your mom.